When sending a child on a cross-country trip unaccompanied, parents will likely be worried until they receive a call that their child has arrived safely. But a Washington family never imagined that call would include news that their teen daughter had allegedly been groped by a fellow passenger.
Yet, that’s exactly what happened last week on a United Airlines flight from Seattle to Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey, according to a federal complaint.
The federal complaint [PDF] details the disturbing July 23 incident in which the 16-year-old girl recalls sleeping in a window seat on the flight only to be awakened when a stranger placed his hand on her thigh.
According to the complaint, the man quickly removed his hand and the girl fell back to sleep. During this time, the man allegedly put his hand on the girl’s groin and inner thigh area, and began rubbing the victim through her clothing.
The man also allegedly tried to put his other hand inside the girl’s pants, the complaint states, adding that the girl was startled awake and the man removed his hand.
The teen then informed a flight attendant of the issue and was moved to another seat. After landing in Newark, the girl called her parents, the Washington Post reports.
Despite being implicated in a crime, the family’s lawyer tells the Post that the man was able to leave the airport.
FBI took over the criminal investigation, as it has jurisdiction on incidents occurring during air travel. Investigators identified the man via a flight manifest, and the teen picked out the 28-year-old passenger through photo lineup.
The man was then arrested and charged with knowingly engaging in sexual contact with a minor female, the Post notes, adding that he was later released on bond and placed on electronic monitoring.
A rep for the Federal Aviation Administration tells the Post that the agency has policies on how to deal with incidents on planes, including physical assault or the threatening of physical assault any individual on board an aircraft. However, it is up to law enforcement to determine what to do with a person accused of a crime.
It’s unclear if United Airlines flight crew members contacted police about the incident or why the man was allowed to leave the airport.
A rep for United tells the Post that the airline is aware of the incident.
“The safety and security of our customers is our top priority. We take these allegations seriously and continue to work closely with the proper authorities as part of their review,” the rep said.
Consumerist has reached out to United for additional comment on the incident. We’ll update this post if we hear back.